Saturday, July 7, 2012

The last passage of the season

After the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous, we still had a week before hauling out. So we motored from Opunohu over to Cook's Bay, which was much less crowded, and perhaps even more beautiful. We did a few walks while we were here, and said our final good-byes to fellow cruisers who are continuing their passages westward toward New Zealand.
We've only met a couple of other boats that are truncating their voyages for the season in Tahiti as we are. One is hauling out in Raitea, and the other has already hauled at Apataki. We have met no other boats headed for Port Phaeton. After a few days at Cook's Bay, we decided it was time to head for Port Phaeton, even though winds were light and we would likely have to motor most or all of the way. The route from Moorea goes against prevailing winds, so we had a choice of "no wind" or "headwind." Unfortunately we didn't make our decision early enough in the day, and soon realized that we couldn't reach Port Phaeton before dark. So we looked for a navigable pass, and finally found a safe anchorage inside the reef, about 8 miles west of Port Phaeton. The next day dawned clear and calm, so we decided that rather than head straight to Port Phaeton, we would explore the coast of Tahiti Iti. We motored south past Teahupoo, where the road ends on this side of the peninsula. There are a number of navigable passes along this coast, although the surf breaking on the reef can be formidable!
We explored one of the southernmost lagoons on the coast of Tahiti Iti, but could not find a suitable anchorage in anything less than 90 feet of water!
So we started working our way back north, entering Havae Pass near Teahupoo. This is one of Tahiti's most famous surf breaks, and we motored right past the surfers as they sat waiting for the next set. It would have been nice to get some pictures of them actually surfing, but we weren't sure we wanted to be there in our boat when the set came in!
Although the navigable channel was well marked, there were still no suitable anchorages to be found, outside of the small marina at Teahupoo. So we kept motoring, and after a few hours found ourselves at Port Phaeton, our final destination for the season. We spent the last two days before haul-out de-commissioning and cleaning the boat. Sails were dropped and folded, engine oil and filters were changed, and halyards were skyed with messenger lines. Haulout at Tahiti Nautic Center is accomplished on a trailer, similar to San Carlos, Mexico, but much more primitive. Yvan, the manager of the carenage, wore a wetsuit and guided the boat onto the trailer from in the water. The port rail was lashed tightly to two steel uprights by means of lines around the mast and to various hard points on the boat. As our fin keel has a fairly small footprint, Yvan and his assistant also blocked the hull fore and aft of the keel, and we were slowly winched clear of the water.
We were amazed to see how clean the bottom was, a testament to the quality of the Comex paint we had been using for the past 2 years. It took another two days to prepare the boat for long-term storage. Port Phaeton provides excellent shelter against any hurricanes that might approach (a relative rarity in Tahiti). Our major concern here is torrential rainfall and high humidity. We stripped all canvas except for the binnacle cover, bagged all fabrics, stood settee and berth cushions on edge, and placed dehumidifiers in the cabin. We also removed all food that isn't in cans or hard plastic containers, and spread boric acid against any bugs that might still be curious about the inside of the boat. We flushed the main engine and outboard with fresh water, and chlorinated and then emptied our water tanks. We've been through this process twice already, so it wasn't stressful, just laborious. The good news is that by the time we were done we were well and truly ready to leave the boat behind! We piled our luggage into a small rented Citroen and drove north to Papeete, where we had a room booked in a small pension for our last night before flying out. We also had tickets to two of the annual Heiva traditional song and dance concerts. For our last full day in Polynesia, we invited Jim and Karen from sv Sockdolager to join us for a day of sightseeing. First, we watched the 6-man va'a canoes start their race around Moorea, a 5-hour paddle.
Then we drove up to the Belvedere, 2000 feet above Papeete. Amazingly, we could still see the canoes as they approached Moorea, over 10 miles away (but they don't show up in this compressed photo).
We came down the mountain, and continued clockwise around the island. We stopped at Point Venus, whose powerful lighthouse had guided us in, and where we had first anchored after arriving from the Tuamotus.
This is a historic spot, and was used by Captain Cook during both of his visits to Tahiti. He named Point Venus for the celestial observation he was sent here to perform in 1769: the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun. This rare event had just re-occurred here a few weeks ago, and a replica of Cook's fort had been constructed for the occasion.
We made a few more stops along the beautiful eastern coast of Tahiti, hiking to waterfalls and eating fresh pineapple and pamplemousse along the waterfront near Hitia.
We even stopped at Port Phaeton so Jim and Karen could see where we were storing our boat.
We got back to Papeete in time for a pint of excellent microbrewed beer at Les Trois Brasseurs. And then it was time to start packing for the flight back to North America. This is probably the last blog entry for now, as we don't think we will return to the boat until next April. Thanks for following our adventures!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous

The penultimate event of this year's cruising season was the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous, a get-together for all the boats that have crossed to Polynesia, from Panama, the Galapagos, Mexico, Hawaii, and even a few that came direct from California. Normally Vicki and I avoid large groups, but we decided to make an exception this time, and we are glad we did. It was a very fun 3 days with a lot of the friends we have made over this past season, even though several of the boats we most wanted to see did not make it to the rendezvous.
Here is Mark with two of our favorite cruisers, Don and Deb from s/v Buena Vista.
The kick-off event was Friday evening at the downtown Papeete quay. We decided to tie up at the city's downtown yacht moorage so we wouldn't have to travel far. The city charges about $0.80/foot to med-moor to a float with a locked gate for security. There are extra charges for water, power, and garbage, and there are no facilities (bathrooms, showers, laundry) provided. But no one comes to French Polynesia expecting much value for their dollar, or much in the way of cruiser amenities, and it was fun to be in the center of the action (and noise) for a day, and only a 2-block walk to the public market.
The Friday evening kick-off included a traditional Polynesian "blessing" of the fleet,
and some wonderful music and dance from a talented group of young people who used this event as a rehearsal for the upcoming "Heiva" competition.
They even got all of the skippers into the act.
Afterward we enjoyed dinner at the "roulottes" with Don and Deb.
Saturday morning we assembled outside the harbor entrance for a very informal 20nm race to Opunohu Bay on the neigboring isle of Moorea. Winds were gusting into the mid- and upper 20s and seas were large and confused. Even nearby boats literally disappeared into the troughs between wave crests.
Despite an extremely poor start (we decided at the last minute to hoist the main instead of just running with the jib), we caught up with at least part of the fleet, and had an exciting sprint for the finish line. We came in just behind Bright Angel and Convivia.
Saturday evening we made an ill-fated decision to attend a shoreside festivity. When we got there, it turned out to cost more than we thought, so turned right around and headed back toward the anchorage. Even though we had not imbibed any alcohol, we had a slight accident in the darkness. The dinghy got hung up on a reef, and when I got out to push it off, the reef collapsed under me and I went plunging into the shallow water. My pinkie finger took the full brunt of my fall, and is either fractured or dislocated or jammed. At any rate it is swollen, discolored, and throbbing with pain. Sunday was a full schedule of fun events on the beach, at what has to be one of the world's most beautiful anchorages. It started off sunny, but most of the day threatened rain.
Even with my mashed finger, my favorite event was the 6-person outrigger canoe race, in which we teamed up with Brian and Terry from Off Tempo, and 2 Polynesian paddlers who did all the directional control. We only finished 2nd out of 4 in our heat, but it was a real rush.
And at least we didn't flip the canoe like this group!
Other events were pareu tie-dyeing,
pareu tying,
a fruit-carrying race (in which I fell, skinned my knee, and developed some kind of infection),
and coconut husking.
Here's Vicki practicing the ancient "sport" of rock lifting. Guess that's how they got people in shape to build the maraes!
A great group of musicians kept us entertained all day long.
There were other activities and an award ceremony, but we crashed and burned before the day was over, and had to head back to the boat for a nap! That evening, the rain finally arrived, along with 40-knot winds. Several of the larger boats dragged through the anchorage - fortunately none of them were near us. We learned next morning that several boats had sustained considerable damage. Crowded anchorages and high winds are just a recipe for problems, so we were glad to head out to a more isolated spot the next evening.
We had also anchored here the previous week, on our first trip to Moorea to catch up with our friends on Estrellita. Here we are enjoying a drink with them. We had hoped to see them sometime in the Tuamotus, but never caught up with them.
Carol and Livia took us to swim with the stingrays at "Stingray City", and this was a real highlight of our time in Moorea.
Sadly, this weekend marked the effective end of our cruising season. Now I am just nursing my various wounds and afflictions, and counting down the days until haulout. Oh, and I am back at work teaching online classes as of this week!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Anse Amyot to Tahiti

We had a great sail to get to Anse Amyot, at the opposite end of Toau atoll. We sailed off the anchor and right out through Otugi Pass, against a 2-knot flood current. It was a bit bouncy on the outside, but nothing bad, and the wind stayed steady out of the ESE at about 14 knots. We made 5.5 knots with a reef in the main and the small jib hardly drawing. These atolls are so steep-to that you could sail within a stone's throw of the reef and not get a reading on your depth sounder. The first depth contour on the chart is over 3000 feet! As we approached Anse Amyot we could see a forest of masts. We radioed for "any vessel" and Helene, a Dutch woman onboard the Marilelou, came back, advising that we were in luck as there was one mooring left. Her husband Kari, from Finland, came out in a dinghy to lead us in, and we soon found ourselves moored right between Buena Vista and Blue Rodeo. Several boats already familiar to us - Gato Go, Xe, and Knotty Lady -were also here, along with boats from Germany, Finland, Sweden, and France. One of the German boats soon departed, leaving room for Leysin, who showed up a couple of hours after we arrived. Anse Amyot is rather unique, as it is a "bay" in the outer reef. It is actually just a shallow pass, but only a pirogue or dinghy could get into the lagoon from here, as the inner part of the bay is ringed with a solid, shallow reef. Gaston and Valentine, the resident owners, have installed a dozen moorings for visiting sailors, and the expectation is that you will come ashore for dinner at least once during your stay. We happened to arrive for the celebration of their 13th wedding anniversary, so tonight was set as a potluck dinner, with everyone invited. Vicki gave them some Mardi Gras beads to help them celebrate. In the afternoon, we snorkeled over to the nearby fish trap which earns a living for Gaston and Valentine. It was teeming with angelfish, parrotfish, unicornfish, groupers, trumpetfish, and every other imaginable life form. There were two napoleons, three whitetip sharks, an eagle ray, a moray, and even a turtle! Only the grouper, parrotfish, and unicornfish are harvested - everything else is released. Still, it was sad to see how agitated the captives were inside their cage, and we had to resist the urge to get wire clippers from the boat and set everyone free. At the entrance to the trap, a number of octopus were lying in wait for the abundant prey, and Dennis from Knotty Lady came over to harvest a few for the potluck. We went to shore early to meet Gaston and Valentine, and the others who live here - Phillippe, Jean, and a second Gaston. Some of the cruisers have also informally joined the staff during their stay here - Kari helping with the moorings, Dennis helping with the fish traps, and everyone pitching in during the recent visit of the catamaran flotilla, when they put on dinner for 60! The cruisers contributed mostly hors d'oeuvres to the potluck. We had hors d'oeuvres and drinks inside. The locals provided most of the feast: grilled lobster, octopus curry, poisson cru, and grilled chicken. Jeanne from Xe made a huge cauldron of paella after the fish and chicken had been cooked. Consequently dinner wasn't even served until after 9PM, so Vicki and I were struggling to stay awake! The tables wouldn't fit inside, so we all sat outside. But a huge downpour had everyone scrambling to move the tables into sheltered spots, and most of us got very wet! Vicki and I decided to head back to the boat before dessert was ever served. Although there is not much fetch here, the anchorage is completely exposed to the SE wind, and the boats pulled hard on their moorings through the night. The next morning we learned that Kari and Helene had returned to their boat late in the evening and realized that it was dragging its mooring toward the reef! They had gotten there just in time to save their home. The next day Valentine showed us how to implant the oysters with seeds to make pearls, and how to harvest the pearls once they are ready. Quite a few of the cruisers had never seen this done before, and there was a lot of wheeling and dealing for pearls! On our third and last day in Anse Amyot, the winds died down a bit and ten of us headed out to dive the outer reef wall. While the visibility was absolutely amazing, close to 200 feet, there were very few large fish. After hanging over the "abyss" (the reef wall drops over 3000 feet nearly straight down), we spent the last part of the dive watching the aquarium fish on the reef top. The next day the winds were back up to 20 knots, so we decided it was time to head for Tahiti. The "problem" of such nice sailing winds was that we had to work to slow the boat down so that we could arrive in daylight. We couldn't sail fast enough to get there in one overnight, but we really had to drag our feet to stretch it to 2 nights out. These short passages are the worst - you don't have enough time to adjust to the motion and get into a proper sleep cycle. This was a pretty wet and rough ride, with rather confused seas considering that the winds were only 20 knots or so. During our final approach, we realized it was still going to be dark when we closed with the island, so we decided to anchor in the lee of Point Venus, where there was an easy anchorage with only a few boats to maneuver around. The next morning, Carol and Livia on Estrellita welcomed us to Tahiti with a crepe breakfast! We soon forgot the bouncing around and lack of sleep that seem to come with any passage. Later in the morning, Estrellita headed over to Moorea to find better winds for kiteboarding, so we moved a few miles to the Tahiti Yacht Club where we picked up a mooring in a nice sheltered cove. We are grateful that our good old boat has gotten us here safely.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


What a treat to have a daysail instead of an overnighter to our next destination. We had good wind and sailed out of Fakarava's north pass with very little current. Within a mile or so we could already see the palm-lined motus at Toau. As we approached Otugi Pass, the ebb current was setting up standing waves against the east wind, but we were able to avoid most of the current by hugging the southern edge of the pass. We only had to fight 3.5 knots of current, and with a quartering breeze and a little help from the diesel were soon through the pass. We turned left and headed to one of the 2 recommended anchorages at Toau, near a small reef and in the shelter of a huge palm grove. Ah, looks like we have the entire lagoon to ourselves! After anchoring and having lunch, we took a short nap, but were awakened by the sound of a pair of small diesel engines. We looked out the companionway to see the catamaran flotilla steaming by. We had expected they would go all the way to Anse Amyot at the other end of the atoll, but here they were. No problem, there is plenty of room here. The next morning, we dinghied back out to the pass, but there was already a slight ebb current, so we snorkeled in the lagoon instead. This is a very "sharky" lagoon, meaning lots of them and they are not shy. We got a bit uncomfortable as several sharks persisted in entering our "personal space." At mid-day, we decided to move to an undesignated anchorage between the two passes, to join Blue Rodeo and Gato Go, who had just arrived from Fakarava. There was a sturdy-looking mooring, so we picked that up instead of trying to anchor amidst the towering coral bommies on the bottom. Later, Island Bound joined us. We are among an avid group of divers, and are the only boat in the anchorage without a scuba compressor! The next morning dawned sunny and calm. Based on our snorkel, we thought we should head out early to snorkel the small northern pass. But the flood current lasted until nearly 10:30, leaving us time to make numerous drifts from the ocean through the pass into the lagoon. The current was a bit tricky, and we had to be careful not to be set into the breakers lining the northern edge of the pass. We saw numerous sharks and a few napoleons, and a spotted eagle ray, but there was not very good coral here. The best area was a large curving ledge with several arches and caves, and after doing several drifts, Vicki and I anchored over it so we could observe all the action for a longer period. Leysin arrived in the afternoon, but their dinghy engine was not running, so we took them out to the main (Otugi) pass the next morning. The coral was not very good in this pass either, but the terrain was very interesting - numerous ridges and canyons grooved the bottom, leading to a large "amphitheater" with a sandy bottom and surrounded by small cliffs. This area was teeming with gray and silvertip sharks, and there were a number of whitetips "sleeping" in the sand. Twice we saw a 3-meter long lemon shark, the first we had ever seen. Blue Rodeo and Gato Go joined us later, and saw a giant manta. This area would make a nice dive site, as long as you kept a careful eye on your direction of drift. The slack doesn't seem to last more than a few minutes here. After we were done snorkeling, the wind veered to the south and the anchorage got bouncy. Blue Rodeo and Gato Go decided to head for Anse Amyot, but we weren't ready for open water yet, so we decided to double back to the southeastern corner of the lagoon, and Leysin followed us over. This turned out to be a lovely anchorage, with a nice beach to walk, and a large coconut grove where teams of men were husking nuts and burning dead fronds. After a nice afternoon of snorkeling and walking, Leysin invited us over for poisson cru and grilled parrotfish, from fish they had been given by the locals. We got back to our boat just in time to avoid a series of heavy downpours that lasted all night. This was a place we could have easily stayed a week, had we not been on a schedule. But the next morning dawned clear with a fair wind, so we decided to sail on to Anse Amyot, probably our last stop in the Tuamotus before making the 200-mile crossing to Tahiti.